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The Desert Trail

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The slow-rolling winter's sun rose coldly, far to the south, riding up from behind the saw-toothed Sierras of Mexico to throw a silvery halo on Gadsden, the border city. A hundred miles of desert lay in its path -- a waste of broken ridges, dry arroyos, and sandy plains -- and then suddenly, as if by magic, the city rose gleaming in the sun.
It was a big city, for the West, and swarming with traffic and men. Its broad main street, lined with brick buildings and throbbing with automobiles, ran from the railroad straight to the south until, at a line, it stopped short and was lost in the desert.
That line which marked the sudden end of growth and progress was the border of the United States; the desert was Mexico. And the difference was not in the land, but in the government.
As the morning air grew warm and the hoar frost dripped down from the roofs the idlers of the town crept forth, leaving chill lodgings and stale saloons for the street corners and the sun.
Against the dead wall of a big store the Mexicans gathered in shivering groups, their blankets wrapped around their necks and their brown ankles bare to the wind. On another corner a bunch of cowboys stood clannishly aloof, eying the passing crowd for others of their kind.
In this dun stream which flowed under the morning sun there were mining men, with high-laced boots and bulging pockets; graybeards, with the gossip of the town in their cheeks; hoboes, still wearing their Eastern caps and still rustling for a quarter to eat on; somber-eyed refugees and soldiers of fortune from Mexico -- but idlers all, and each seeking his class and kind.
If any women passed that way they walked fast, looking neither to the right nor to the left; for they, too, being so few, missed their class and kind.
Gadsden had become a city of men, huge-limbed and powerful and with a questing look in their eyes; a city of adventurers gathered from the ends of the world. A common calamity had driven them from their mines and ranches and glutted the town with men; for the war was on in Mexico and from the farthermost corners of Sonora they still came, hot from some new scene of murder and pillage, to add their modicum to the general discontent.
As the day wore on the crowd on the bank corner, where the refugees made their stand, changed its complexion, grew big, and stretched far up the street. Men stood in shifting groups, talking, arguing, gazing moodily at those who passed.
Here were hawk-eyed Texas cattlemen, thinking of their scattered herds at Mababi or El Tigre; mining men, with idle prospects and deserted mines as far south as the Rio Yaqui; millmen, ranchers, and men of trades -- all driven in from below the line and all chafing at the leash. While a hundred petty chiefs stood out against Madero and lived by ransom and loot, they must cool their heels in Gadsden and wait for the end to come.
Into this seething mass of the dispossessed, many of whom had lost a fortune by the war, there came two more, with their faces still drawn and red from hard riding through the cold. They stepped forth from the marble entrance of the big hotel and swung off down the street to see the town.
They walked slowly, gazing into the strange faces in the vague hope of finding some friend; and Gadsden, not to be outdone, looked them over curiously and wondered whence they had come.
The bunch of cowboys, still loitering on the corner, glanced scornfully at the smaller man, who sported a pair of puttees -- and then at the big man's feet. Finding them encased in prospector's shoes they stared dumbly at his wind-burned face and muttered among themselves.
He was tall, and broad across the shoulders, with far-seeing blue eyes and a mop of light hair; and he walked on his toes, stiff-legged, swaying from the hips like a man on horseback. The rumble of comment rose up again as he racked past and then a cowboy voice observed:
"I bet ye he's a cowpunch!"

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Additional Info

  • Publication Date: June 16, 2016
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Disabled
  • Print Length: 291 Pages
  • File Size: 1,208 KB

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